Tee Up to Reading

Did you play any golf this summer?

A few years ago my niece gave me a mayonnaise jar full of silver golf balls (and some other stuff) for Christmas. It had a little story attached to it about a professor who filled a jar with golf balls and asked his students to tell him when the jar was full. When the golf balls reached the top, the students signaled him to stop. But then the professor picked up a box and began to pour pebbles in around the golf balls.

“Now is it full?” he asked. Smiling at his trick the students agreed that the jar was now full.

Then the professor picked up another bag from under the desk and poured the jar full of sand, asking once more, “Now is it full?” The students laughed and answered with a resounding, “Yes!”

The professor then picked up his full, venti-sized travel mug, and filled the jar yet again with coffee.

You’ve probably seen this “parable in a jar.” It’s a reminder about priorities. The golf balls are the non-negotiables in life, but if you don’t put them in first you’ll never fit them in at all. Once the jar is full of pebbles, and sand, and coffee, there will be no chance of squeezing in even a single golf ball. Priorities, by their very definition, have to come first. And yet, for something that seems so obvious, it’s often really hard to do. The tyranny of the urgent usurps the important on a daily basis.

I bring this up now at the beginning of the school year, because now is the time to place the golf balls in the jar—i.e. to establish the non-negotiable priorities and practices in our classrooms before our days fill up with pebbles and sand. There are so many pebbles and grains of sand hovering and lurking around every desk, and at every meeting, and with every initiative and announcement, just waiting to usurp the space and time and attention in our classrooms. Decide on your golf balls and get them placed firmly in the jar during these first tender weeks of school.

We’d like to suggest that your first, and maybe biggest golf ball, be a strong and supported independent reading program. This is the thing that so often gets squeezed out by pebbles, and yet, in the words of Kelly Gallagher,

“It will not matter that you taught your students to identify foreshadowing if they don’t read a lot. It will not matter that you have mastered your new grade program if your students do not read a lot. It will not matter if your students pass all of their quizzes if they do not read a lot. It will not matter how many standards you taught if your students do not read a lot.”

And furthermore,

“Several years ago the Los Angeles Times reported on the findings of a research study that showed the single most significant factor in determining a person’s success in life to be whether they read for pleasure. That they read was important—what they read was not” (Reynolds, 2004).

If you don’t prioritize a consistent and structured independent reading time in your classroom, don’t even bother assigning Hamlet or Great Expectations, because if a student isn’t already a reader, I promise you she is not going to start with Shakespeare or Dickens. She simply won’t. Statistics confirm that the number of secondary students who complete any of the assigned reading continues to decline, even in honors courses.

Make creating a reading culture a golf ball and establish that non-negotiable from the get-go. We’re here to support you. (We spent the summer posting about it. If you missed those, scroll back and check them out.)

But, what about the coffee? What is significance of the coffee, you may be asking. Well, no matter how pressured life may seem, there’s always room for a latte. Especially if you drink it while reading a good book.

Check out these blog posts for ideas on creating a reading culture and leave us a comment sharing your own ideas.

I Want My Students To Read More

Establishing a Reading Culture

My Jerry McGuire Moment on Independent Reading